Tanzania Sumbawanga The enormous devastation caused by fire, started by unknown arsonists on 185 hectares of trees in Mbizi Forest Reserve in Sumbawanga Municipality, in Rukwa Region, has reached over 226m/-, according to the actual damage quantified recently.
The devastated forest, with a total of 1,269 hectares, had been planted with tree seedlings since 2014 has 13 blocks, out of which only Blocks 5 and 8 remained intact.
The Forest reserve is managed by Tanzania Forest Service (TFS), 12 kilometres from Sumbawanga Town, which is surrounded by six villages and is the key source of water supply by 80 per cent here in addition to being home to red colobus monkeys.
That revelation was made by the Mbizi Forest Reserve Manager, Mr Mohamed Kiangi during the 30th Rukwa Regional Consultative Committee (RCC) chaired by the Regional Commissioner (RC), Mr Zelothe Steven, held here over the weekend.
According to Mr Kirangi, fire erupted in different places in the forest simultaneously at 1:00 am on September 19 before being extinguished by 100 per cent at 1:00 pm on the following day.
Mr Kirangi told the RCC meeting that the reserve forest was key source of water as several steams from the forest poured its water into Lake Rukwa as modern irrigation schemes in Lake Rukwa Basin depended entirely from water of the streams.
On his part, Mr Zelothe issued a stern warning to arsonists that they would be traced wherever they are hiding and arraigned in court. The RC ordered relevant state organs to ensure that all suspects are arrested and prosecuted.
“No stone will remain unturned until all of them are apprehended and prosecuted. It is very disheartening that they have caused colossal damage to the forest, which is the main source of water supply to Sumbawanga Town,” the RC stressed. He appealed to the public to assist by providing information that will lead to the arrest of the arsonists, who are still in hiding.
Meanwhile, a cross-section of the people interviewed by this newspaper, who preferred anonymity, alleged that the arsonists were suspected to have used their mobile handsets and motorcycles in setting fire at different places in the forest, which broke out almost simultaneously.
“Possibly, the arsonists used their mobile phones to communicate with each other so that they successfully set fire at different areas in the forest concurrently,” added one of them.
Several casual workers, including Paulo Mapunda, Baldwin Kambaulaya and Ms Marietha Fataki, echoed their sentiments that the devastated forest was their key source of employment and income.
During the rainy seasons — between January and March — more than 400 casual workers could secure temporary jobs, including weeding and planting of tree seedlings.